December 18, 2013 // 1:51 PM

Caring Connections Always Has a Hand to Lend

Written by Scott Miller

Helping Hands Builds a Strong Sense of Community

Life’s heaviest burdens seem lighter when they’re shared. At Garden Spot Village, the Caring Connections program helps ensure that when a resident reaches out, someone is there to listen.

Caring Connections began in 2004 as a way to provide additional emotional and spiritual support for villagers who were facing difficult challenges, such as loss of a loved one, a serious illness, sudden need to care for a spouse or another significant life change. In the years since, volunteers have served hundreds of residents.

"Sometimes it's bringing the word of God to them, sometimes it's just listening and letting them know someone cares," says Carol Wendel, the dynamic resident volunteer who coordinates the program and matches volunteers with residents who have requested visits. Wendel has a background in nursing and served as executive director of a senior center before moving to Garden Spot Village in 2003.

“’Bringing life to life’ is the way I look at it,” she says.”

Meeting a Variety of Social and Spiritual Needs

The number and length of visits depends on what the care recipient needs. Some volunteers spend an hour or two a week, others more. One volunteer spends half a day twice a week visiting residents in Laurel View memory support. Another reads to a resident who has macular degeneration. Some of the contacts extend over a few months; other relationships today date back to the beginning of the program eight years ago.

Recently several women in Mountain View personal care wanted to learn to knit or brush up on their knitting skills—so Caring Connections formed a knitting group.

“Creating an afghan was a beautiful sight to see,” says Wendel. “Now they are working on prayer dolls to distribute to a children’s hospital.”

Dedicated Volunteers Make All the Difference

The program’s first training session in February 2005 drew 30 volunteers. Today, Caring Connections has more than 50 active volunteer “connectors”—including two volunteers from New Holland borough—and about 65 “connectees” who receive services. Several times a year, the Caring Connections holds a training session for new members. Wendel prepares the training, involving Garden Spot Village team members from social services, pastoral services and volunteer services.

"Volunteers learn the importance of being there for the receiver, as well as listening, sharing and reaching out to those in need of compassion, support or encouragement," says Wendel.

Volunteers continue to meet regularly as a group after the training session, sharing ideas and supporting each other. In addition to helping residents who are in a time of need, Caring Connections enriches the lives of volunteers as well.

"Our volunteers get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that they are helping to brighten someone's day," Wendel says. "Volunteers know they are making a difference in someone's life."

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